The city of Richmond, at last, removed an enormous copper statue of Robert E. Lee Wednesday, bringing to a close a 133-year-old tribute to the losing general in the Civil War. The 12-ton, 40-foot-tall memorial of Lee atop a horse sat in the heart of Virginia’s state capital for more than a century, one of many such statues and monuments across the South that have helped create and embed the South’s “Lost Cause” narrative, rebranding the Confederacy as something noble, rather than a fundamentally rotten society rooted in human atrocity. The push to bring down such monuments got a boost when Virginia’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, ordered the removal of the Lee memorial in June 2020. The decision was held up in court for more than a year, until last week, when the Virginia Supreme Court approved the monument’s removal.
“This monument and its time capsule reflected Virginia in 1890—and it’s time to remove both, so that our public spaces better reflect who we are as a people in 2021,” Gov. Northam said in a statement ahead of the statue’s removal. “The past 18 months have seen historic change, from the pandemic to protests for racial justice that led to the removal of these monuments to a lost cause. It is fitting that we replace the old time capsule with a new one that tells that story.”
The Richmond statue was particularly high-profile because of its location in the capital city of Virginia, which was also the capital of the Confederacy until its dismantling at the end of the Civil War. On Wednesday morning, the statue was unceremoniously removed by workers and placed in the back of a flatbed truck as a small crowd cheered its approval. The statue of Lee was the first of six Confederate monuments to be erected along Richmond’s Monument Avenue as a menacing homage to and reminder of white rule and, on Wednesday, it was the last remaining memorial of those six to be taken down.